Monday, March 14, 2011

Orthodox Gay Marriage

Rabbi Areleh Harel (pictured) is one rabbi who encourages and arranges gay marriages that I respect. Of course the gay marriages he arranges are not what you think they are. These are gay men to gay women. So far he has performed or arranged 11 of them with a 12th engagement just announced. And it seems that these marriages are for the most part successful although 2 of them have not worked out and are in the process of divorce.

I do not believe that this necessarily changes their sexual orientation. My guess is that most of the time it doesn’t. But what it does do is enable them to have children that will have both a father and mother and a normal life. And just like in any family, the sex lives of the parents are kept private.

Another thing this does it emphasizes that one’s sexual orientation is not the only way one should define themselves. Nor should one’s sexual orientation be the way anyone should define their happiness. There are many ways to achieve happiness in one’s life. But as American author and humorist Sam Levinson once said in commenting upon the Declaration of Independence phrase ‘pursuit of happiness’ - ‘Happiness is a by-product. You cannot pursue it by itself.’

These gay couples choose to marry members of the opposite sex in order to have families and lead normal lives and are happy with that decision. From Ha’aretz:

Harel said all his couples receive close support from a team of psychologists, marriage counselors and social workers. They also consult frequently with rabbis, including Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein of the Har Etzion Yeshiva, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan Yaakov Ariel, and especially Rabbi Menachem Burstein, head of the Puah Institute, which specializes in halakhic solutions to fertility problems.

This speaks volumes about the ability to overcome one’s trials in life. It is a testament to their commitment to Halacha as Orthodox Jews that they try and overcome their urges to have a sexual relationship with members of their own sex.

Although they sometimes fail and submit to an illicit desire it does not detract from their commitment anymore than anyone who submits to their own illicit desires. People are human and sometimes fail. That is what Teshuva is for.

In the case of a both husband and wife who understand each other’s sexuality there is more of an inclination to forgive and forget. These couples and their families are otherwise as completely observant as any heterosexual couple. We all struggle with our own demons. And we try to overcome them. When confronted with situations that challenge us most of the time we do. But sometimes even the best of us fail.

The bottom line is that such a couple can build a beautiful family and life together and reap the rewards of happiness that a normal life can have that is well integrated into the community

I realize that this may not be a solution for all gay people. But for those who are willing to try it - I think it is a very good way for Orthodox Gays to live normal productive lives without the sin and stigma attached to living a gay lifestyle.

The beauty of such a relationship is that each couple knows exactly what their spouse is. And goes into the relationship with their eyes wide open. There is no hiding who you are. As opposed to those who hide their sexuality and get married to an unsuspecting spouse thinking that they can change or somehow continue to hide it from them. This usually ends up in divorce or worse.

There has been a big push of late by the gay community for acceptance. This is true for Orthodox gays as well. I have always been of the opinion that one must accept people for who they are and not judge them. The only thing we absolutely must reject is what Halacha rejects the actual behavior. We do not reject someone for having desires over which he has no control. It is only behavior that one can control - not who one is attracted to.

Unfortunately most of us tend to reject such an individual too, no matter how religious or how fine a person they are. That is clearly wrong. Young people who discover those tendencies in themselves and live in an environment that loathes them often become so depressed that they contemplate suicide.

That’s why there are campaigns on behalf of young gays that have slogans like ‘It gets better.’ What they mean is that once you are out of the closet and hit rock bottom in terms of how negatively your community and perhaps even your family reacts to your ‘coming out’ - it can only get better from there. These organization try and make them feel better about themselves, offer them advice, and the mentoring of others like them who have gone through it.

The only problem I have with organizations like these with respect to Orthodox gays is that they completely discount the sinfulness of male gay behavior and even encourage it. That is clearly wrong. Otherwise they are lifesavers. That is clearly right.

It is wrong to promote the gay lifestyle. Being gay and having homosexual sex are two different things. Promoting the gay lifestyle as being on par with a heterosexual lifestyle is something that is in complete opposition to Halacha. Doing so ought to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. One need not stay in the closet about their homosexuality. But at the same time one may not promote it as an alternative and acceptable lifestyle. The Torah expressly forbids it. And it is one reason that I oppose same sex marriage.

On the other hand I see the marriage of a male and female gay couple to each other as a positive step. It enables gay people to live as close to a normal Halachic life as possible – in an honest relationship. And I applaud Rabbi Harel for being committed to it.